One of the benefits of COVID is virtually visiting diverse congregations. It has been a blessing even after returning to in-person worship services.
My father-in-law, 94, a dyed-in-the-wool Pentecostal, lives with us. Lately, he stopped driving to church. He still longs for corporate worship. So, after our worship service, we attend church with him over the virtual airwaves (i.e. YouTube or Facebook). Most times the preacher sounds almost Reformed. However, last Sunday was horrible. His sermon on the end times and political barbs was excruciating. My father-in-law on the other hand was lifting his hands to the heavens and praising Christ.
Cornel West says “…I’ve got a gangster in me. I was a gangster before I met Jesus. Now I’m a redeemed sinner with gangster proclivities.” (Cornel West on Why the Left Needs Jesus)
As I reflect on my own theological and socio-political views, as well as my own sinful inclinations, I wonder: How am I like Cornel, or the preacher, or possibly worse than them? The complexity of our times has created hyper vigilance against the other. A major fault line is having to choose between truth or love. And how do you address it in the humility of one’s own depravity? The response has been disheartening. The more vocal continue the destructive debate. The silence sustains racism.
We are living in complex times and seeing horrific events. These are times to lean into Christ. It is also a time to remember what we believe and speak it in love:
- God created everyone in His image. Dignity is not earned, it is indwelled, and we must refute teaching and people corrupting beliefs, attitudes, or actions to dehumanize.
- We have a propensity to sin. We can do great harm. Our history bears witness to our capacity to enslave, murder, impoverish, and render others helpless. Paul warns of teaching by cunning and crafty people in their deceitful scheming. Racism has its roots in powerful entrenched teaching; we must acknowledge and stand against it. It is a condition, not an identity, but just like any other condition it requires monitoring, and the therapy is grieving that leads to repentance. Denial leads to anger, frustration, and condemnation. Reformed teaching and preaching are a gift when Christ alone is glorified. When Christ is glorified, the gates of hell cannot keep the church from being effective against the personal, congregational, and societal impact of racism. But we must also acknowledge the possibility that our practice, just like the practice of the early church and apostles, falls short of the glory of God. That calls for an acknowledgement of our sin, grieving and repentance taken to the cross.
- For the apostle Paul, there is great power in the horrific sacrifice of the cross. The beat and torn flesh of Christ on the cross speak to the utter despicable horror of our sinfulness and hostility. Our carnality moves us toward taking aim at each other or running for cover. He calls us to face our personal sinful beliefs toward the other, to grieve unto repentance the historical racism condoned by the church, and to hear a call for justice by our nation for all people. Christ on the lynching tree seems defeated but, in his death, He has the power to bind our sinfulness. A horrific site and the path to live in the power of His resurrection.
- We are called to live in His resurrected power. In Christ, the Holy Spirit indwells in us and bears witness to His love for all people but especially for the oppressed. He also leads us to greater sensitivity about what is holy without corrupting love or truth. In the resurrected power He calls us to disciple people and nations to form a people from every tongue and nation.
As a staff person for the Office of Race Relations, I am grateful to serve you, the church. The complexity of racism seems overwhelming, but it is the work of a roaring lion defeated by Christ. As you decide to integrate ways to address racism into your ministry we would like to help you facilitate conversations and provide resources. It is a long journey, but you will be amazed at how God will equip your church.